Living Thought Book Event: The Boundaries of Philosophy and Life

Roberto Esposito’s Living Thought is exquisitely written work, filled with delightfully poetic turns of phrase that bring his philosophical subjects to vivacious life. It genuinely is a joy to read and I would gladly commend it to even non-specialist readers. Like other books of its type, in introducing an number of figures I had previously not been exposed to in detail as well as being furnished with rich footnotes, the work represents a jumping off point for further consideration of Italian philosophy, perhaps even mapping out a distinctive future programme of research. One could consider reading other claims of the “Italian difference” that preceding this work, for example Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno’s collection (Virno is interestingly is unmentioned here) Radical Thought In Italy through the various constructs that Esposito presents here. Indeed, the discussion of Antonio Negri and Mario Tronti appears to suggest this strategy. For example, Esposito states that Italian philosophy was a form that was distinctively anti-state in its orientation due to the historical lack of a centralised Italian state – Italian radical politics appears to similarly orientate itself against the state.

In an earlier post, Adam asked if other philosophers could be potentially be consider “honorary Italians” by virtue of their philosophical writings illustrating the same factors that Esposito locates as being especially Italian characteristics and traces from the renaissance to the present day. I wonder more if there is a danger of Esposito’s claim that Italian philosophy presents a unique relationship between philosophy and life that would encourage readers to believe that for the remainder of European thought can be read through the Heideggerian quip on the lives of philosopher: “He was born, he thought, he died”. For Esposito, Italian philosophy situates itself uniquely by collapsing the relationship which allows him in part to include artists (Leonard da Vinci), writers (Dante) and film makers (Pasolini) in his canon precisely because Italian thought is about the lived life, the political life, even biological life, not abstract thought that divorces from the conflictual, historical or corporal dimensions of living. Which is to say, Esposito’s canon of philosophers lived lives. One can think of the political involvement in the life of court of the key figure of Machiavelli here as an exemplar.

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Weapons Grade Snark: Against Barth On Religions

I am frankly offended by this stunning display of bad faith, initiated by Barth’s tortured dialectic and Green’s defence of so transparent a piece of sophistry […] The parochialism and abject ignorance of the advocates of the Barthian position is not only embarrassing, it is offensive to the dignity of the spiritual and religious lives of literally billions of fellow human beings.

Ivan Strenski, “On “Religion” and Its Despisers,” in What is religion?: origins, definitions, and explanations, ed. Thomas A. Idinopulos and Brian C. Wilson (Leiden: Brill, 1998). responding to Green Garrett, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theology of Religion,” The Journal of Religion 75, no. 4 (1995).

Imagine writing a piece that was so offensive that it actually was offensive to billions of people.

Derrida Wars Again

In a recent blog post, Graham Harman claims that the problem with Derrida is that he prevaricates too much, that he doesn’t take a stance. Therefore, in his discussion of the his books, Derrida questions the notion of the book. Harman writes:

There is an inherent problem with this compulsive unwillingness to stand anywhere in particular even while insisting that purported gullible dupes such as the person who was kind enough to interview Derrida are the very incarnation of naiveté for daring to use such credulous words as “book.”

I’m the first, in my irritatingly English empiricist manner, to hate on someone for their “flowery” prose style. But isn’t this sort of thing what philosophy is? Seems to me that questioning the meaning of words beyond a naive reception is the beginning of all philosophical reflection. Indeed Derrida’s statement not only seems intelligible to me (it seems a live question as to how can we talk of books as individuals when they are part of this huge canon), but is a provocative and interesting thought, which is to say, a philosophical thought…

English Riots – The Stupidity of Right Wing Reason – A Note On Liberalism

Our old friend Phillip Blond has offered his solution to the English riots (note English, no riots occurred in Scotland or Wales – which is important). Apparently for Blond criminal gangs just magically form after hearing liberalism’s social ontology, and then randomly move to loot unprovoked by any concrete socio-economic situation. Gangs have nothing to do with poverty and its resultant territoriality. The linked Joesph Rowntree Foundation report suggests that violent teenage gangs are not the result of rampant individualism, but actually “a source of friendship and group solidarity” and are “sometimes motivated by a sense of ownership over the area, and the desire to protect the area or oneself” – a dark version of voluntary association and localism Red Toryism! His solution in part is that apparently we need to really crack down on the poor areas, that we have abandoned to policing. This is a new level of idiocy, since one of the initial causes of the rioting was the fact that policing of the areas was over zealous, with near constant stop and searches, particularly for black and minority ethnic men.

But it reveals something that has been common to the right-wing commentariat responses to the incidents. From the left there is a notion that sociological causes for the riots, give some sense of mitigation of the responsibility of participants, that it isn’t ultimately their fault. This does not mean events cannot be condemned, but that the reasons for them tell us that those involved may have reasons that should promote leniency. The left attempt to solve the problem at its source rather than its surface effects of the disturbance – admitting firmly that the problem has deep roots.  The responses, they claim – i.e. throwing alleged rioters families out of their council accommodation will only exacerbate the problem. However, on the right, no explanation can be rendered, it is criminality pure and simple, to be cracked down upon a la Blond. To explain is to endorse. Yet, in the same breath, it is the result of the dominance of liberal elites, the lack of discipline in schools, the end of family life, rap music and so on. Yet despite these causes of the individuation of the ‘feral youth’, that are not their fault, but the fault of wider liberal society, they must be cracked down on as hard as possible.

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Memes Glorious Memes

Everyone loves memes, how we chuckle at LOLcats, how we laugh at their inherent creativity, how some of us take them pretty seriously politically. Conor Cunningham, however, really doesn’t like them. In an interview for the The Other Journal he lets rip:

as for memes, they are pure nonsense; you may as well speak of astrology or the X-Files. Not to sound too paradoxical, but if memes existed, first, we would never know, how could we? Second, how could there be more than one? Sure, we have things like fashion that some of us follow, but if, as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennett, and company insist, we are created by memes rather than the other way around, then in a sense, there could only ever be one metameme. There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme. All thoughts would just be examples of the one “truth,” the metameme. This would have catastrophic consequences for science, because all scientific theories would be products of the selfish meme, like some great matrix; radical epistemological and ontological scepticism would surely follow.

I actually agree. From the perspective of any decent sociology mimetics is bunk and it makes no sense at all as social science. First because the problem of individuation Cunningham hints toward, second, the fact that Dawkins and crew tend to only consider it pejoratively in regard to religion, and third that like evolutionary psychology itself it is an inappropriate and facile explanation in the social sphere that tends towards ‘just-so’ stories that can never be verified or even argued against. However, these are not the claims here – there is an immediate move to the poking of philosophical problems. The argument for this is that all if all thoughts are memes then there must be some kind of flattening of distinction – all memes are equally true. But I don’t see how it this ends in there being one big meme “There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme” – I don’t see how that follows – surely even if we agree that there is this floating world of total untrue memes with no one being actually true as they are all memes, then I don’t see how this means there is one great big meme behind them – one massive ‘O Rly?’ owl, say.

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Richard Dawkins Keynesianism

I am with Negri on Keynes that Keynes was “a gentleman – that is, an honest bourgeois, not a petty-bourgeois like Proudhon, or an ideologue, but an easy man”. Proudhon was a localist after all, and we all know the petty-bourgeois nature of localism and those who believe it can resist capitalism – more on this later! Not that we should confuse any of the recent attempts at government intervention and regulation with Keynesianism – of course, none of them even consider the possibility of full employment as being a necessary goal. And we certainly shouldn’t confuse Keynesianism with anti-capitalism like so many friends do. I digress.

The popular form of Keynes states that inorder to stimulate the economy in the event of one of capitalism’s systematic downturns, the government must perform more activity, creating jobs and stimulating the economy as a whole, kicking the recovery into gear. This is illustrated by an example from his masterpiece The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money:

if the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.

The simple point was – and against those who would claim that you need to build something socially useful (though this is to the good if this is possible, because more satisfied secure people do more economic activity) – the government should do something, anything to stimulate the economy.

My premise is this then – the government should require Richard Dawkins to release yet another book of the ilk of The God Delusion – feel free to come up with your own names in the comments. The sheer stimulation of the publishing industry, both in terms of newsprint and books either refuting his claims line by line, systematically or morally, or piggy backing his claims with fresh praise, would increase the economy to an unprecedented extent. The book should be a mix of generally bad arguments (like many of those he gives in the forebear) and very good (perhaps outsourced to the best atheist philosophers of religion) and/or very subtle and convoluted arguments indeed (perhaps those that it is near impossible to decipher and are open to numerous contradictory interpretations)  that would generate far more responses at far higher level of scholarship than the rather thin dash he gives us there. Better still, he could maybe do a series of the books.

Considering this would be done in a private consultation with Dickie Dawkins, it would sneak around conservatives opposed to stimulation of the economy. Its as good idea as any – maybe they could convince him to perhaps convert to a minor and obscure religion, in order to stimulate a further flurry of publication?